Beeminding My Own Business

Published in Personal Development / Wellbeing - 4 mins to read

What if the currency of procrastination and ill-discipline was not regret, but the American dollar? What if your present self could bet on your future self? What if all you needed to solve your problems were colourful graphs, a community of esoteric nerds, and to hand over your credit card information to a company who make an overwhelming number of bee puns? These are all questions that Beeminder has helped me answer.

I’ve been using Beeminder for a year to the day. It’s a site that allows you to create rolling commitment contracts - you promise to do something, at a certain cadence, for a certain length of time. Providing you stick to your commitment, nothing bad happens. If you do not meet your commitment, then you have to pay. If you’d like to understand the concept further, they explain it far better than I do.

Beeminder has significantly boosted my productivity, as I’ve figured out how to use it in a way that works for me. This is what I’ve learned so far.

The first thing I learned was that tracking certain things was not a good idea, namely my weight. Given my tendency to inhale buñuelos at the thought of stepping on the scale, I knew it was a long shot, but I figured I might be the Wayne Gretzsky of weight loss - unfortunately it was more like I showed up to practice without my skates. I stopped after a couple of weeks - clearly my problem here was not a lack of accountability, but deep-rooted emotional issues. Beeminder is excellent at dealing with one of these things, the other not so much.

The other category of things that I tried but ultimately gave up on were things that required manually inputting data one or more times a day. I tried goals like drinking 3 litres of water in a day, or doing pull ups. Entering data manually felt like a chore, and I quickly became frustrated. There’s already plenty of friction to stopping and doing pushups in the middle of my work day - manually entering them in Beeminder only made it harder.

Some other things worked great. After a decade, I finally managed to make my meditation habit stick, in part thanks to Beeminder. The integration with Apple Health (which in turn integrates with Insight Timer, the iOS app I use in place of a gonging bhikkhu) means my data automatically appears in Beeminder. Beeminder incorporates some delightful design decisions; if I set my goal to meditate for 20 minutes a day, and then meditate for 40 minutes, I can take tomorrow off. My time, energy and motivation fluctuate, and setting a mandatory minimum of 20 minutes every day wouldn’t respect this. Beeminding meditation was so successful that I ended up paying for RescueTime so I could have a 0-touch way of tracking the amount of focus worked I do. This has contributed significantly to my productivity.

It also works great for things I need to do every week or two. Beeminder will let me do one-fourteenth of a task a day, so now it nudges me to review my budget every fortnight, or make space every week to write in my “achievements” doc at work - or to do some kind housework with a sufficiently regular cadence so as to disincentivise my girlfriend from leaving me.

Some people take Beeminder pretty seriously, and I’m only scratching the surface of what’s possible with it. In the next year I won’t on any new goals that require significant manual data entry, but I can see myself developing my own programmatic integrations. For example, after mentioning to my friend Ted the idea of setting up a raspberry Pi with a button that could directly enter data to my goals, he put the script together in an afternoon, and now I’m getting more familiar with the Notion API I have several idea of things within my workspace I’d like to set quantitative goals around.

Beeminder is great for helping you overcome akrasia, but the biggest thing I learned from the last year was that akrasia is not always the thing preventing me from making progress towards my goals. When considering a parts model of my psyche, I want to consider the part that is in opposition to me doing “the thing”. How strong is their opposition? Are they clutching something tightly, or could they be persuaded to let it go in return for a gold star? If so, then the problem might be tractable via Beeminding.

Fortunately, I am a sucker for gold stars.